On The Division Of Labour

217. Perhaps the most important principle on which the

economy of a manufacture depends, is the division of labour

amongst the persons who perform the work. The first application

of this principle must have been made in a very early stage of

society, for it must soon have been apparent, that a larger

number of comforts and conveniences could be acquired by each

individual, if one man restricted his occupation to the ar

making bows, another to that of building houses, a third boats,

and so on. This division of labour into trades was not, however,

the result of an opinion that the general riches of the community

would be increased by such an arrangement; but it must have

arisen from the circumstance of each individual so employed

discovering that he himself could thus make a greater profit of

his labour than by pursuing more varied occupations. Society must

have made considerable advances before this principle could have

been carried into the workshop; for it is only in countries which

have attained a high degree of civilization, and in articles in

which there is a great competition amongst the producers, that

the most perfect system of the division of labour is to be

observed. The various principles on which the advantages of this

system depend, have been much the subject of discussion amongst

writers on political economy; but the relative importance of

their influence does not appear, in all cases, to have been

estimated with sufficient precision. It is my intention, in the

first instance, to state shortly those principles, and then to

point out what appears to me to have been omitted by those who

have previously treated the subject.

218. 1. Of the time required for learning. It will readily be

admitted, that the portion of time occupied in the acquisition of

any art will depend on the difficulty of its execution; and that

the greater the number of distinct processes, the longer will be

the time which the apprentice must employ in acquiring it. Five

or seven years have been adopted, in a great many trades, as the

time considered requisite for a lad to acquire a sufficient

knowledge of his art, and to enable him to repay by his labour,

during the latter portion of his time, the expense incurred by

his master at its commencement. If, however, instead of learning

all the different processes for making a needle, for instance,

his attention be confined to one operation, the portion of time

consumed unprofitably at the commencement of his apprenticeship

will be small, and all the rest of it will be beneficial to his

master: and, consequently, if there be any competition amongst

the masters, the apprentice will be able to make better terms,

and diminish the period of his servitude. Again, the facility of

acquiring skill in a single process, and the early period of life

at which it can be made a source of profit, will induce a greater

number of parents to bring up their children to it; and from this

circumstance also, the number of workmen being increased, the

wages will soon fall.

219. 2. Of waste of materials in learning. A certain quantity

of material will, in all cases, be consumed unprofitably, or

spoiled by every person who learns an art; and as he applies

himself to each new process, he will waste some of the raw

material, or of the partly manufactured commodity. But if each

man commit this waste in acquiring successively every process,

the quantity of waste will be much greater than if each person

confine his attention to one process; in this view of the

subject, therefore, the division of labour will diminish the

price of production.

220. 3. Another advantage resulting from the division of

labour is, the saving of that portion of time which is always

lost in changing from one occupation to another. When the human

hand, or the human head, has been for some time occupied in any

kind of work, it cannot instantly change its employment with full

effect. The muscles of the limbs employed have acquired a

flexibility during their exertion, and those not in action a

stiffness during rest, which renders every change slow and

unequal in the commencement. Long habit also produces in the

muscles exercised a capacity for enduring fatigue to a much

greater degree than they could support under other circumstances.

A similar result seems to take place in any change of mental

exertion; the attention bestowed on the new subject not being so

perfect at first as it becomes after some exercise.

221. 4. Change of tools. The employment of different tools in

the successive processes is another cause of the loss of time in

changing from one operation to another. If these tools are

simple, and the change is not frequent, the loss of time is not

considerable; but in many processes of the arts the tools are of

great delicacy, requiring accurate adjustment every time they are

used; and in many cases the time employed in adjusting bears a

large proportion to that employed in using the tool. The

sliding-rest, the dividing and the drilling-engine, are of this

kind; and hence, in manufactories of sufficient extent, it is

found to be good economy to keep one machine constantly employed

in one kind of work: one lathe, for example, having a screw

motion to its sliding-rest along the whole length of its bed, is

kept constantly making cylinders; another, having a motion for

equalizing the velocity of the work at the point at which it

passes the tool, is kept for facing surfaces; whilst a third is

constantly employed in cutting wheels.

222. 5. Skill acquired by frequent repetition of the same

processes. The constant repetition of the same process

necessarily produces in the workman a degree of excellence and

rapidity in his particular department, which is never possessed

by a person who is obliged to execute many different processes.

This rapidity is still further increased from the circumstance

that most of the operations in factories, where the division of

labour is carried to a considerable extent, are paid for as

piece-work. It is difficult to estimate in numbers the effect of

this cause upon production. In nail-making, Adam Smith has

stated, that it is almost three to one; for, he observes, that a

smith accustomed to make nails, but whose whole business has not

been that of a nailer, can make only from eight hundred to a

thousand per day; whilst a lad who had never exercised any other

trade, can make upwards of two thousand three hundred a day.

223. In different trades, the economy of production arising

from the last-mentioned cause will necessarily be different. The

case of nail-making is, perhaps, rather an extreme one. It must,

however, be observed, that, in one sense, this is not a permanent

source of advantage; for, though it acts at the commencement of

an establishment, yet every month adds to the skill of the

workmen; and at the end of three or four years they will not be

very far behind those who have never practised any other branch

of their art. Upon an occasion when a large issue of bank-notes

was required, a clerk at the Bank of England signed his name,

consisting of seven letters, including the initial of his

Christian name, five thousand three hundred times during eleven

working hours, besides arranging the notes he had signed in

parcels of fifty each.

224. 6. The division of labour suggests the contrivance of

tools and machinery to execute its processes. When each

processes, by which any article is produced, is the sole

occupation of one individual, his whole attention being devoted

to a very limited and simple operation, improvements in the form

of his tools, or in the mode of using them, are much more likely

to occur to his mind, than if it were distracted by a greater

variety of circumstances. Such an improvement in the tool is

generally the first step towards a machine. If a piece of metal

is to be cut in a lathe, for example, there is one particular

angle at which the cutting-tool must be held to insure the

cleanest cut; and it is quite natural that the idea of fixing the

tool at that angle should present itself to an intelligent

workman. The necessity of moving the tool slowly, and in a

direction parallel to itself, would suggest the use of a screw,

and thus arises the sliding-rest. It was probably the idea of

mounting a chisel in a frame, to prevent its cutting too deeply,

which gave rise to the common carpenter's plane. In cases where a

blow from a hammer is employed, experience teaches the proper

force required. The transition from the hammer held in the hand

to one mounted upon an axis, and lifted regularly to a certain

height by some mechanical contrivance, requires perhaps a greater

degree of invention than those just instanced; yet it is not

difficult to perceive, that, if the hammer always falls from the

same height, its effect must be always the same.

225. When each process has been reduced to the use of some

simple tool, the union of all these tools, actuated by one moving

power, constitutes a machine. In contriving tools and simplifying

processes, the operative workmen are, perhaps, most successful;

but it requires far other habits to combine into one machine

these scattered arts. A previous education as a workman in the

peculiar trade, is undoubtedly a valuable preliminary; but in

order to make such combinations with any reasonable expectation

of success, an extensive knowledge of machinery, and the power of

making mechanical drawings, are essentially requisite. These

accomplishments are now much more common than they were

formerly, and their absence was, perhaps, one of the causes of

the multitude of failures in the early history of many of our


226. Such are the principles usually assigned as the causes

of the advantage resulting from the division of labour. As in the

view I have taken of the question, the most important and

influential cause has been altogether unnoticed, I shall restate

those principles in the words of Adam Smith:

The great increase in the quantity of work, which, in consequence

of the division of labour, the same number of people are capable

of performing, is owing to three different circumstances: first,

to the increase of dexterity in every particular workman;

secondly, to the saving of time, which is commonly lost in

passing from one species of work to another; and, lastly, to the

invention of a great number of machines which facilitate and

abridge labour, and enable one man to do the work of many.

Now, although all these are important causes, and each has

its influence on the result; yet it appears to me, that any

explanation of the cheapness of manufactured articles, as

consequent upon the division of labour, would be incomplete if

the following principle were omitted to be stated.

That the master manufacturer, by dividing the work to be

executed into different processes, each requiring different

degrees of skill or of force, can purchase exactly that precise

quantity of both which is necessary for each process; whereas, if

the whole work were executed by one workman, that person must

possess sufficient skill to perform the most difficult, and

sufficient strength to execute the most laborious, of the

operations into which the art is divided.(1*)

227. As the clear apprehension of this principle, upon which

a great part of the economy arising from the division of labour

depends, is of considerable importance, it may be desirable to

point out its precise and numerical application in some specific

manufacture. The art of making needles is, perhaps, that which I

should have selected for this illustration, as comprehending a

very large number of processes remarkably different in their

nature; but the less difficult art of pinmaking, has some claim

to attention, from its having been used by Adam Smith; and I am

confirmed in the choice of it, by the circumstance of our

possessing a very accurate and minute description of that art, as

practised in France above half a century ago.

228. Pin-making. In the manufacture of pins in England the

following processes are employed:

1. Wire-drawing. (a) The brass wire used for making pins is

purchased by the manufacturer in coils of about twenty-two inches

in diameter, each weighing about thirty-six pounds. (b) The coils

are wound off into smaller ones of about six inches in diameter,

and between one and two pounds' weight. (c) The diameter of this

wire is now reduced, by drawing it repeatedly through holes in

steel plates, until it becomes of the size required for the sort

of pins intended to be made. During this process the wire is

hardened, and to prevent its breaking, it must be annealed two or

three times, according to the diminution of diameter required.

(d) The coils are then soaked in sulphuric acid, largely diluted

with water, in order to clean them, and are then beaten on stone,

for the purpose of removing any oxidated coating which may adhere

to them. These operations are usually performed by men, who draw

and clean from thirty to thirty-six pounds of wire a day. They

are paid at the rate of five farthings per pound, and generally

earn about 3s. 6d. per day.

M. Perronnet made some experiments on the extension the wire

undergoes in passing through each hole: he took a piece of thick

Swedish brass wire, and found

Feet Inches

Its length to be before drawing 3 8

After passing the first hole 5 5

second hole 7 2

third hole 7 8

It was now annealed, and the length became

After passing the fourth hole 10 8

fifth hole 13 1

sixth hole 16 8

And finally, after passing through six other holes 144 0

The holes through which the wire was drawn were not, in this

experiment, of regularly decreasing diameter: it is extremely

difficult to make such holes, and still more to preserve them in

their original dimensions.

229. 2. Straightening the wire. The coil of wire now passes

into the hands of a woman, assisted by a boy or girl. A few

nails, or iron pins, not quite in a line, are fixed into one end

of a wooden table about twenty feet in length; the end of the

wire is passed alternately between these nails, and is then

pulled to the other end of the table. The object of this process

is to straighten the wire, which had acquired a considerable

curvature in the small coils in which it had been wound. The

length thus straightened is cut off, and the remainder of the

coil is drawn into similar lengths. About seven nails or pins are

employed in straightening the wire, and their adjustment is a

matter of some nicety. It seems, that by passing the wire between

the first three nails or pins, a bend is produced in an opposite

direction to that which the wire had in the coil; this bend, by

passing the next two nails, is reduced to another less curved in

the first direction, and so on till the curve of the wire may at

last be confounded with a straight line.

230. 3. Pointing. (a) A man next takes about three hundred of

these straightened pieces in a parcel, and putting them into a

gauge, cuts off from one end, by means of a pair of shears, moved

by his foot, a portion equal in length to rather more than six

pins. He continues this operation until the entire parcel is

reduced into similar pieces. (b) The next step is to sharpen the

ends: for this purpose the operator sits before a steel mill,

which is kept rapidly revolving: it consists of a cylinder about

six inches in diameter, and two and a half inches broad, faced

with steel, which is cut in the manner of a file. Another

cylinder is fixed on the same axis at a few inches distant; the

file on the edge of which is of a finer kind, and is used for

finishing off the points. The workman now takes up a parcel of

the wires between the finger and thumb of each hand, and presses

the ends obliquely on the mill, taking care with his fingers and

thumbs to make each wire slowly revolve upon its axis. Having

thus pointed all the pieces at one end, he reverses them, and

performs the same operation on the other. This process requires

considerable skill, but it is not unhealthy; whilst the similar

process in needlemaking is remarkably destructive of health. (c)

The pieces now pointed at both ends, are next placed in gauges,

and the pointed ends are cut off, by means of shears, to the

proper length of which the pins are to be made. The remaining

portions of the wire are now equal to about four pins in length,

and are again pointed at each end, and their lengths again cut

off. This process is repeated a third time, and the small portion

of wire left in the middle is thrown amongst the waste, to be

melted along with the dust arising from the sharpening. It is

usual for a man, his wife, and a child, to join in performing

these processes; and they are paid at the rate of five farthings

per pound. They can point from thirty-four to thirty-six and a

half pounds per day, and gain from 6s. 6d. to 7s., which may be

apportioned thus; 5s. 6d. the man. 1s. the woman, 6d. to the boy

or girl.

231. 4. Twisting and cutting the heads. The next process is

making the heads. For this purpose (a) a boy takes a piece of

wire, of the same diameter as the pin to be headed, which he

fixes on an axis that can be made to revolve rapidly by means of

a wheel and strap connected with it. This wire is called the

mould. He then takes a smaller wire, which having passed through

an eye in a small tool held in his left hand, he fixes close to

the bottom of the mould. The mould is now made to revolve rapidly

by means of the right hand, and the smaller wire coils round it

until it has covered the whole length of the mould. The boy now

cuts the end of the spiral connected with the foot of the mould,

and draws it off. (b) When a sufficient quantity of heading is

thus made, a man takes from thirteen to twenty of these spirals

in his left hand, between his thumb and three outer fingers:

these he places in such a manner that two turns of the spiral

shall be beyond the upper edge of a pair of shears, and with the

forefinger of the same hand he feels that only two turns do so

project. With his right hand he closes the shears; and the two

turns of the spiral being cut off, drop into a basin; the

position of the forefinger preventing the heads from flying about

when cut off. The workmen who cut the heads are usually paid at

the rate of 2 1/2d. to 3d. per pound for large heads, but a

higher price is given for the smaller heading. Out of this they

pay the boy who spins the spiral; he receives from 4d. to 6d. a

day. A good workman can cut from six to about thirty pounds of

heading per day, according to its size.

232. 5. Heading. The process of fixing the head on the body

of the pin is usually executed by women and children. Each

operator sits before a small steel stake, having a cavity, into

which one half of the intended head will fit; immediately above

is a steel die, having a corresponding cavity for the other half

of the head: this latter die can be raised by a pedal moved by

the foot. The weight of the hammer is from seven to ten pounds,

and it falls through a very small space, perhaps from one to two

inches. The cavities in the centre of these dies are connected

with the edge of a small groove, to admit of the body of the pin,

which is thus prevented from being flattened by the blow of the

die. (a) The operator with his left hand dips the pointed end of

the body of a pin into a tray of heads; having passed the point

through one of them, he carries it along to the other end with

the forefinger. He now takes the pin in the right hand, and

places the head in the cavity of the stake, and, lifting the die

with his foot, allows it to fall on the head. This blow tightens

the head on the shank, which is then turned round, and the head

receives three or four blows on different parts of its

circumference. The women and children who fix the heads are paid

at the rate of 1s. 6d. for every twenty thousand. A skilful

operator can with great exertion do twenty thousand per day, but

from ten to fifteen thousand is the usual quantity: children head

a much smaller number: varying, of course, with the degree of

their skill. About one per cent of the pins are spoiled in the

process; these are picked out afterwards by women, and are

reserved, along with the waste from other processes, for the

melting-pot. The die in which the heads are struck is varied in

form according to the fashion of the time; but the repeated blows

to which it is subject render it necessary that it should be

repaired after it has been used for about thirty pounds of pins.

233. 6. Tinning. The pins are now fit to be tinned, a process

which is usually executed by a man, assisted by his wife, or by a

lad. The quantity of pins operated upon at this stage is usually

fifty-six pounds. (a) They are first placed in a pickle, in order

to remove any grease or dirt from their surface, and also to

render them rough, which facilitates the adherence of the tin

with which they are to be covered. (b) They are then placed in a

boiler full of a solution of tartar in water, in which they are

mixed with a quantity of tin in small grains. In this they are

generally kept boiling for about two hours and a half, and are

then removed into a tub of water into which some bran has been

thrown, for the purpose of washing off the acid liquor. (c) They

are then taken out, and, being placed in wooden trays, are well

shaken in dry bran: this removes any water adhering to them; and

by giving the wooden tray a peculiar kind of motion, the pins are

thrown up, and the bran gradually flies off, and leaves them

behind in the tray. The man who pickles and tins the pins usually

gets one penny per pound for the work, and employs himself,

during the boiling of one batch of pins, in drying those

previously tinned. He can earn about 9s. per day; but out of this

he pays about 3s. for his assistant.

234. 7. Papering. The pins come from the tinner in wooden

bowls, with the points projecting in all directions: the

arranging of them side by side in paper is generally performed by

women. (a) A woman takes up some, and places them on a comb, and

shaking them, some of the pins fall back into the bowl, and the

rest, being caught by their heads, are detained between the teeth

of the comb. (b) Having thus arranged them in a parallel

direction, she fixes the requisite number between two pieces of

iron, having twenty-five small grooves, at equal distances; (c)

and having previously doubled the paper, she presses it against

the points of the pins until they have passed through the two

folds which are to retain them. The pins are then relieved from

the grasp of the tool, and the process is repeated. A woman gains

about 1s. 6d. per day by papering; but children are sometimes

employed, who earn from 6d. per day, and upwards.

235. Having thus generally described the various processes of

pin-making, and having stated the usual cost of each, it will be

convenient to present a tabular view of the time occupied by each

process, and its cost, as well as the sums which can be earned by

the persons who confine themselves solely to each process. As the

rate of wages is itself fluctuating, and as the prices paid and

quantities executed have been given only between certain limits,

it is not to be expected that this table can represent the cost

of each part of the work with the minutest accuracy, nor even

that it shall accord perfectly with the prices above given: but

it has been drawn up with some care, and will be quite sufficient

to serve as the basis of those reasonings which it is meant to

illustrate. A table nearly similar will be subjoined, which has

been deduced from a statement of M. Perronet, respecting the art

of pin-making in France, above seventy years ago.

English manufacture

236. Pins, Elevens, 5546 weigh one pound; one dozen = 6932

pins weigh twenty ounces, and require six ounces of paper.

Name of the process


Time for making 1 lb of pins Hours

Cost of making 1 lb of pins Pence

Workmen earns per day s. d.

Price of making each part of a single pin in millionths of a


1. Drawing wire (224) Man .3636 1.2500 3 3 225

2. Straightening wire ( 225) Woman .3000 .2840 1 0 51

Girl .3000 .1420 0 6 26

3. Pointing (226) Man .3000 1.7750 5 3 319

4. Twisting and cutting heads Boy .0400 .0147 0 4 1/2 3

(227) Man .0400 .2103 5 4 1/2 38

5. Heading (228) Woman 4.0000 5.0000 1 3 901

6 Tinning or whitening Man .1071 .6666 6 0 121

(229) Woman .1071 .3333 3 0 60

7. Papering (230) Woman 2.1314 3.1973 1 6 576

7.6892 12.8732 - - 2320

Number of persons employed: Men. 4; Women. 4; Children, 2.

Total, 10.

French manufacture

237. Cost of 12,000 pins, No. 6, each being eight-tenths of an

English inch in length,--as they were manufactured in France about

1760; with the cost of each operation: deduced from the

observations and statement of M. Perronet.

Name of the process

Time for making twelve thousand pins Hours

Cost of making twelve thousand pins Pence

Workman usually earns per day Pence

Expense of tools and materials Pence

1. Wire -- -- -- 24.75

2. Straightening and cutting 1.2 .5 4.5 --

3. Coarse pointing 1.2 .625 10.0 --

Turning wheel(2*) 1.2 .875 7.0 --

Fine Pointing .8 .5 9.375 --

Turning wheel 1.2 .5 4.75 --

Cutting off pointed ends .6 .375 7.5 --

4. Turning spiral .5 .125 3.0 --

Cutting off heads .8 .375 5.625 --

Fuel to anneal ditto -- -- -- .125

5. Heading 12.0 .333 4.25 --

6. Tartar for cleaning -- -- -- .5

Tartar for whitening -- -- -- .5

7. Papering 4.8 .5 2.0 --

Paper -- -- -- 1.0

Wear of tools -- -- -- 2.0

24.3 4.708

The great expense of turning the wheel appears to have arisen

from the person so occupied being unemployed during half his

time, whilst the pointer went to another manufactory

338. It appears from the analysis we have given of the art of

pinmaking, that it occupies rather more than seven hours and a

half of time, for ten different individuals working in succession

on the same material, to convert it into a pound of pins; and

that the total expense of their labour, each being paid in the

joint ratio of his skill and of the time he is employed, amounts

very nearly to 1s. 1d. But from an examination of the first of

these tables, it appears that the wages earned by the persons

employed vary from 4 1/2d. per day up to 6s., and consequently

the skill which is required for their respective employments may

be measured by those sums. Now it is evident, that if one person

were required to make the whole pound of pins, he must have skill

enough to earn about 5s. 3d. per day, whilst he is pointing the

wires or cutting off the heads from the spiral coils--and 6s.

when he is whitening the pins; which three operations together

would occupy little more than the seventeenth part of his time.

It is also apparent, that during more than one half of his time

he must be earning only 1s. 3d, per day, in putting on the heads;

although his skill, if properly employed, would, in the same

time, produce nearly five times as much. If, therefore, we were

to employ, for all the processes, the man who whitens the pins,

and who earns 6s. per day, even supposing that he could make the

pound of pins in an equally short time, yet we must pay him for

his time 46. 14 pence, or about 3s. 10d. The pins would therefore

cost, in making, three times and three quarters as much as they

now do by the application of the division of labour.

The higher the skill required of the workman in any one

process of a manufacture, and the smaller the time during which

it is employed, so much the greater will be the advantage of

separating that process from the rest, and devoting one person's

attention entirely to it. Had we selected the art of

needle-making as our illustration, the economy arising from the

division of labour would have been still more striking; for the

process of tempering the needles requires great skill, attention,

and experience, and although from three to four thousand are

tempered at once, the workman is paid a very high rate of wages.

In another process of the same manufacture, dry-pointing, which

also is executed with great rapidity, the wages earned by the

workman reach from 7s. to 12s., 15s., and even, in some

instances, to 20s. per day; whilst other processes are carried on

by children paid at the rate of 6d. per day.

239. Some further reflections suggested by the preceding

analysis, will be reserved until we have placed before the reader

a brief description of a machine for making pins, invented by an

American. It is highly ingenious in point of contrivance, and, in

respect to its economical principles, will furnish a strong and

interesting contrast with the manufacture of pins by the human

hand. In this machine a coil of brass wire is placed on an axis;

one end of this wire is drawn by a pair of rollers through a

small hole in a plate of steel, and is held there by a forceps.

As soon as the machine is put in action, -

1. The forceps draws the wire on to a distance equal in

length to one pin: a cutting edge of steel then descends close to

the hole through which the wire entered, and severs the piece

drawn out.

2. The forceps holding the piece thus separated moves on,

till it brings the wire to the centre of the chuck of a small

lathe, which opens to receive it. Whilst the forceps is returning

to fetch another piece of wire, the lathe revolves rapidly, and

grinds the projecting end of the wire upon a steel mill, which

advances towards it.

3. After this first or coarse pointing, the lathe stops, and

another forceps takes hold of the half-pointed pin, (which is

instantly released by the opening of the chuck), and conveys it

to a similar chuck of an adjacent lathe, which receives it, and

finishes the pointing on a finer steel mill.

4. This mill again stops, and another forceps removes the

pointed pin into a pair of strong steel clams, having a small

groove in them by which they hold the pin very firmly. A part of

this groove, which terminates at that edge of the steel clams

which is intended to form the head of the pin, is made conical. A

small round steel punch is now driven forcibly against the end of

the wire thus clamped, and the head of the pin is partially

formed by compressing the wire into the conical cavity.


1. I have already stated that this principle presented itself to

me after a personal examination of a number of manufactories and

workshops devoted to different purposes; but I have since found

that it had been distinctly pointed out in the work of Gioja.

Nuovo Prospetto delle Scienze Economiche. 6 tom. 4to. Milano,

1815, tom. i. capo iv.

2. The great expense of turning the wheel appears to have arisen

from the person so occupied being unemployed during half his

time, whilst the pointer went to another manufactory.